Why Can't You Buy a DreamBox Learning CD?

Recently, a friend of a friend who had reviewed our offering wrote to me and said, “Overall I find the business model of a monthly charge very strange for a children’s learning software. Usually one buys a book or a CD/DVD for a one time price and can use it indefinitely. DreamBox’s offering basically means that now parents need to pay over and over again if their kids want to revisit lessons or if they are just slow learners. A more appropriate pricing model would be to sell the service per lesson or grade level. That would appeal a lot more to me. Think about it. I have to spend $100 for one year of service and after that I basically lose access to the learning tools unless I continue paying. For $100 each year I get many learning software on CD/DVDs or books and I can keep them forever. That is a very easy decision in my mind.”

Math Software CDs

His comments highlight one of our big challenges at DreamBox communicating how different DreamBox is from other products people are familiar with and this seems like a good forum to discuss it! Because we offer a web service instead of a CD or software that downloads to your desktop, DreamBox is able to customize every aspect of the experience to your child’s specific actions in the game and learning needs.

A Math Game that Adapts Dynamically

A CD starts every child at the same point, and they all work through the same lessons in the same sequence, progressing to the next level if they’ve passed them all some children will be successful with this model while others will quickly become either overwhelmed or bored. By contrast, DreamBox places children in the curriculum so they skip the material they already know, begins them where they’re ready to learn, and constantly adjusts everything from the hints and instructional feedback, the pacing and sequence, level of difficulty and more. So each child is always challenged at just the right level, it holds their interest and they can go much further.

Furthermore, learning doesn’t happen in a linear way, and kids really benefit from the opportunity to explore and learn with more self-directed freedom than the typical school curriculum allows. So kids may be in several different parts of the curriculum concurrently and in fact most kids will be learning material from more than 1 grade at any given time. They may be ahead in number sense but still practicing in the computation area of the curriculum. And parents can see this as they follow  what their children are learning in the parent dashboard and through the progress report emails that we send.

So it really is highly individualized learning our customers are buying, a service, not simply a static set of lessons or a piece of software!

  • Assuming the CD installs itself onto the computer, I see no reason why software that comes from a CD (or from a one-time download, for that matter) cannot be just as freeform and individualized as a web-based offering.

    “they all work through the same lessons in the same sequence”

    This is simply not true. To take a random example, let’s look at the 1996 CD-ROM game Civilization II, which was one of my favorites back in those days. It’s a strategy game, not a math game, and it is not based around lessons. However, it did have discrete progression in the form of a technology tree, of scientific advances that you could discover. Every time you played, you could choose a different path through the tree, informed by the unfolding economic and military situation that was completely different each time.

    This has nothing to do with the particular platform on which the software is executed. I mean, even Chess, the board game, plays out differently each time, and it’s made of wood or plastic!

    I am glad that your learning software makes use of such a flexible, player-directed progression. I hope that the trend catches on. Just don’t try to hide the fact that games have been doing this for a long time, and that it in no way depends on software being web-based.

    Instead, you could emphasize the way that being web-based allows you to monitor aggregate player statistics on the game, and actively improve it week by week. Or maybe you provide access to a social network site where kids can compare their progress, play collaborative math games, help each other with difficult subjects, and so on. Those are examples of special opportunities unique to the web-based format.

    At the very least, you could elaborate on the connection between

    “Because we offer a web service instead of a CD or software that downloads to your desktop”


    “DreamBox is able to customize every aspect of the experience to your child’s specific actions in the game and learning needs.”

    Thank you for your consideration.

  • Dreambox is a “living” service. A significant part of its value is not only the individualized pacing and adaptive assessment, but the analytics applied to the student data. This analysis is used to reach out to parents so they know how their children are progressing and what off-computer math activities are appropriate to share with their kids so “mathwise thinking” becomes a permanent part of their mental model.

    This can not be done with offline DVD or book products – which are at best “fossilized remains” of a living service like Dreambox.

    Another way of thinking if it – would you prefer a living teacher in your child’s class or a video recording of a teacher’s presentation?

    Finally, Dreambox is going to “spoil” parents. It gives the kind of feedback that parents only receive if they are lucky to have an extremely gifted teacher with acute powers of obervation and a deep understanding of children’s mathematical mental processes. Needless to say, the vast majority of parents aren’t nearly so lucky! I’m looking forward to seeing Dreambox displace traditional direct instruction in the classroom; this will give trachers more time to use project-based learning approaches that integrate mathematical thinking with the rest of the curriculum.